More than 380 tennis players are expected to compete in the upcoming national championships in South Florida sponsored by the American Tennis Association, the nation’s oldest black sports organization.
Unfortunately, I will not be among them. But I am proud to say my name will be among those listed in the Centennial Journal as a member of the 2016 club.
For a donation of $20.16, I have assured myself a place in the permanent history of the ATA as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. The organization was founded in November 1916 by a group of black tennis clubs who met in Washington, D.C.
This year’s tournament in Fort Lauderdale will be the ATA’s 99th national championships. It will be held July 30-Aug. 6 at The Tennis Club of Fort Lauderdale and the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center.
Competition begins July 30 with the men’s and women’s open. The winners and runners-up will receive $1,000 and $500 respectively. Past winners include Arthur Ashe, a three-time men’s singles champion.
Play in the remaining age and NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) categories for adults, as well as the boys and girls junior matches, will begin on Aug. 1.
The event will kick off a yearlong celebration, building momentum for the 100th national championships in 2017. Plans call for that tournament to be held at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, where it all began.
The historical significance of this year’s tournament has created an excitement level among many members not seen in recent years, said Albert Tucker, vice president for multicultural business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I’m finding that a lot of members who have been in the ATA for a long time, but haven’t been (to the national championship) in a few years, are coming back for the anniversary,” Tucker told me.
Tucker, who is involved in ATA’s effort to build a permanent home and training center in Fort Lauderdale, is excited about the something-for-everyone events schedule to make the tournament a fun-filled week for the junior and adult players as well as families and supporters.
Highlights include a welcoming BBQ on July 31, a dinner cruise on Aug. 1 and a VIP reception on Aug. 2 at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center.
Guests at the reception will be treated to a showing of the Althea Gibson documentary “Althea,” followed by a panel discussion among black tennis pros Leslie Allen, Lori McNeil and Bob Davis.
The film chronicles Gibson’s journey from the cotton fields of South Carolina “to being greeted by the Queen of England at Wimbledon,” said Davis, founder of the Black Tennis History Museum.
Gibson, who broke the tennis color barrier and became the first African-American to win a Grand Slam championship — she won the French Open in 1956 and consecutive Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in 1957-58 — captured the ATA women’s singles title 10 consecutive years beginning in 1947.
Davis, who is registered to play in this year’s men’s 65 doubles and singles events and is a previous men’s doubles champion, said he trained with Gibson and “went through the trials and tribulations with her” during an era when tennis was still segregated in America.
Though a lot has changed inside and outside the ATA since those days, Davis said, the group’s relevance has remained strong.
“It’s still significant,” he told me. “This history of the organization is just so remarkable.”
Next year, I plan to take part in the centennial national championships in Baltimore, either as a player or spectator.
Anyone care to join me?